3 Israelis Arrested In Nigeria For Gifting Leader With Sefer Torah

Photo of Edouard David Benaym (L.), Rudy Rochman (C.), and Andrew Leibman (R.) pose with a Sefer Torah prior to their trip to Nigeria. (Photo: Courtesy of the families)

Israeli activist Rudy Rochman and two other Israelis were arrested last week in Nigeria for alleged contact with Biafran separatists while filming a documentary on African Jewish communities.

Rochman, a dual citizen of Israel and France and a popular pro-Israel activist who frequently speaks internationally to organizations and on college campuses, traveled to Nigeria to visit Jewish communities for his documentary, accompanied by French-Israeli journalist Edouard David Benaym and filmmaker Noam (Andrew) Liebman.

The three men visited the Igbo community, who consider themselves one of the lost tribes in Israel, in southeastern Nigeria. The area where the community lives is a separatist region, where ongoing conflict has been taking place between Nigerian forces and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) movement. Additionally, the Igbo themselves have a history of conflict with Nigeria since 1967, when their declaration of independence spurred a bloody civil war, ending two and a half years later with over a million dead. The conflict never really ended and last year Nigerian soldiers destroyed six Igbo “shuls.”

Although the Igbos consider themselves Jewish, they are not recognized as such by Israel or any Rabbinic authority.

Last week, the three Israelis met with Igbo king Eze Chukwuemeka Eri and presented him with a Jewish-themed gift, and also met with another Igbo community and gifted them with a Sefer Torah.

On Friday night, the three Israelis were arrested at a shul in the Igbo village of Ogidi by Nigerian secret police for alleged contact with anti-government separatists. A press statement released by their families on Wednesday explains that “members of non-state political groups” hijacked the photo of the men gifting the Sefer Torah and twisted it as a “politically motivated action.” The political actors posted the photos – accompanied by anti-government statements – on social media, drawing the attention of Nigerian authorities.

The men were taken to the Nigerian capital of Abuja by state authorities and were reportedly being held in “dehumanizing conditions.” Fortunately, however, the families’ press statement clarifies that with the assistance of the US, Israeli and French Embassies, the conditions have been improved.

The statement from the families emphasizes that the men were in Nigeria “as part of a documentary filmmaking effort to explore the lives and customs of Jewish communities around the world,” and had no political motives whatsoever.

“The documentary is not intended to make any political statement about the countries in which filming will take place, nor does the filmmaking team endorse any political movements,” the statement continues.

“As a guest in the community, the filmmaking crew thought it would be a nice gesture…to give a gift of a Torah. Unfortunately, members of non-state political groups have hijacked for their own purposes the images of the filmmakers giving a Torah to the community…twisting in an effort to create an alternate meaning of politically motivated actions.”

“The families of the filmmaking team are stating and confirming that the filmmaking crew does not have any political intentions. We are working diligently with the US, Israeli and French Embassies.”

(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)


  1. There are numerous groups around the world that claim to be Jewish, but not all such claims are credible and accepted. Furthermore, caution is needed when dealing with groups overseas, as this sad case illustrates. High level Rabbinic guidance, of Gedolei Yisroel, is needed, lest dangerous wrong moves be made ח”ו.

  2. This tribe like so many other groups around the world put their lives on the line daily for their belief in Hashem. They have been persecuted and hunted since they converted and yet they still hold strong to their belief.
    What more could Hashem want from them? They believe in Hashem “b’chal l’vavcha and bchol nafshecha” and they teach their children the same. The torah tells us dozens of times to love and accept the convert. Over and over. Mitzvah De’oraita.

    They are probably some of the most loving, caring, and dedicated Jews out there with 100% of their hearts in the right place. Lets not judge them negatively. Our job is to LOVE our brothers and Geirim. Hashem’s job is to determine who is real and not.
    Rambam’s 13 ikarim. Hashem knows the real intentions of everyone.

    If we do not accept and love such true geirim- what does that say about our OWN observance. Look and see for yourself how many times Hashem DIRECTLY TELLS US in the torah- STRAIGHT OUT- to love the convert.

    I stand in awe and respect for Rudy for his bravery and courage in standing up for all jews and wish him success in spreading his message about loving all am yisroel (converts are part of klal yisroel- hence klal)

    Perhaps if we stopped judging other jews and just loving them we will be able to bring the redemption.

  3. Thank you “thehardtruth” for speaking emmet. We must learn to love and respect each and every Jew as well as any individual who seeks to be part of our tribe. In addition when we see one of our brothers or sisters (or really any human being) in trouble we should not say that G-d forbid they deserve it- we should pray and fight for them! Have loyalty to our people even if you don’t agree with what they do! My prayers go out to these three young men and hope that they will be released and back with their families as soon as possible.

  4. Very interesting article. Do the Igbos use a defer Torah? That tells me they are pretty mainstream. Not speaking as a posek of course.

  5. Thehardtruth, the problem is that they are not geirim. They have never converted. And they were not born to Jewish mothers. Therefore it doesn’t matter what they believe, or how strongly they believe it, they are not Jews, not our brothers, not anything to do with us.

    If they believe in the Torah, that’s very nice, but belief has nothing to do with being Jewish. An atheist or a Catholic born to a Jewish mother is Jewish. A non-Jew who believes in all 13 ikarim is not Jewish. That’s just how it is. Because Am Yisroel is not a religion; it’s a nation that has a religion. So a Catholic with a Jewish mother is like a US citizen who joins al Qaeda; he’s a traitor but he’s still an American. Whereas these people are like someone from Nigeria who loves the USA, has memorized the Declaration of Independence, the constitution, and the Federalist, and passionately believes in everything the USA stands for. None of that makes him an American, and none of it will help him get a visa to come here.